In Rwanda, coffee has brought hope for a better future since the dark days of Civil War that shook the country back in 1994. Coffee has been used as a vehicle for positive change in the years that have followed, and the country is now rightly heralded as a top producer of fine specialty coffee.
Rwanda is blessed with ideal coffee growing conditions that include high altitude, regular rainfall, volcanic soils with good organic structure and an abundance of Bourbon. The vast majority of Rwandan coffee is produced by smallholders of which there are thought to be around half a million, with parcels of land often not much larger than just one hectare per family, with an average of approximately 180 trees each. Coffee is grown in most parts of the country, with particularly large concentrations along Lake Kivu in the west and in the southern province. Rwandan smallholders organise themselves into cooperatives and share the services of centralised wet-mills – or washing stations as they are known locally. Flowering takes place between September and October and the harvest runs from March to July with shipments starting in late May / early June.
The average altitude for this coffee is around 1700m, most of the coffee came from Southern Rwanda, an area known for some of the best coffees in the country. The coffee there is grown on steep hills not too far from the Nyungwe forest.
Natural processing is most old school way to process coffee. After picking the coffee cherries from the coffee trees, they are spread out in thin layers to dry in the sun. The drying stations can be a little different depending on the farm or region; some use brick patios, others special raised beds which enable air to flow around the cherries. The cherries are turned regularly. Once the cherries are properly dry, the skin and dried fruit flesh are removed and the green coffee is stored before exporting it.
The natural process definitely adds flavors to the coffee such as fruitiness and sweetness regardless of variety and region. Common flavor notes for natural processed coffee are blueberry, strawberry, tropical fruits and honey but on the flip side, there can be also wild, fermented flavors and alcohol-like notes. Natural coffees are often described to have red wine like flavors.